Pothos vs Philodendron

Pothos vs Philodendron

Many plant enthusiasts get confused between pothos and philodendron plants. This is understandable as the two are similar in appearance and both belong to the same family, Araceae. However, these plants belong to different genera: pothos belong to the Epipremnum genus, while philodendron plants belong to the Philodendron genus. In this article, we will discuss the features of, and differences between, pothos and philodendrons, and how best to distinguish between the two. 

Pothos 

Scientific/botanical name: Epipremnum aureum

Common names: Pothos, devil’s vine, golden pothos, devil’s ivy, hunter’s robe, taro vine, money plant, silver vine

Native areas: Southeast Asia, China, Australia, New Guinea, the Indian Subcontinent, various islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans

Plant type: Vine 

Mature size: 20 to 40 feet long; three to six feet wide 

Soil type: Moist and well-draining 

Soil pH: Neutral to acidic 

Bloom time: Does not flower 

Hardiness zone: 10-12 USDA

Toxicity: Toxic to pets and humans

Pothos plants are also often called devil’s ivy because it is so hard to exterminate them. They can survive in almost all conditions, including dry soil and low light. These plants can tolerate a certain amount of direct sunlight without burning, but if exposed the entire day, their foliage could suffer from sunburn. They prefer bright, indirect sunlight and like to be watered regularly. The more sunlight they receive, the more variegated their foliage will become. 

Pros and cons 

Pros 

  • Pothos plants are easy to propagate. 
  • They are low-maintenance. 
  • They purify the air, removing pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene.
  • They increase ambient humidity. 

Cons

  • Pothos plants are toxic and mildly harmful to animals and people. In humans, they can cause skin irritation, diarrhea and swelling of the lips, tongue and throat. 
  • They can be expensive, especially the rare varieties like silver/satin pothos, Cebu blue pothos, and jessenia pothos.

Pothos varieties 

  • Golden pothos 
  • Marble queen pothos 
  • Neon pothos 
  • Jessenia pothos 
  • Manjula pothos
  • Pearls and jade pothos 
  • Cebu blue pothos 

Philodendron 

Scientific/botanical name: Philodendron

Native areas: Central and South America 

Plant type: Vines; non-climbers/non-trailing (self-heading)

Mature size: Eight to 20 feet tall; one to six feet wide 

Soil type: Loose and well-draining 

Soil pH: 5.0 to 6.0

Bloom time: May to July, upon maturity at 15-16 years 

Hardiness zone: 9-11 USDA

Toxicity: Toxic to pets and humans     

There are two types of philodendron plants: the climbing type and the upright type. The climbing varieties have heart-shaped leaves with a deep green color, and can be trained to grow around windows, poles or down the sides of containers. The upright types usually have larger leaves with a more compact habit. This type is also slower growing, but can become huge if given the right care. 

The upright philodendron is more tolerant of light than the climbing type. The latter prefers dappled light similar to that in their natural habitat, the tropical rainforests. Colored-leaf varieties prefer bright light for their best colors to appear, and when in too much shade their colors tend more toward dull green. Surprisingly, there are about 450 species of philodendron, most of which start as vines and eventually transform into epiphytes, or plants that live on other plants.

Pros and cons 

Pros 

  • Philodendrons add humidity to the air.
  • They are good at absorbing toxins.
  • They improve air quality. 
  • They have large, waxy leaves that make good dust trappers. 

Cons 

  • These plants are poisonous to humans and pets. Ingesting them could cause burning and swelling of the lips, tongue and throat, as well as vomiting and diarrhea. 
  • They are expensive, particularly the rare varieties such as variegated philodendron minima. 

Philodendron varieties 

  • Lacy tree philodendron
  • Heartleaf philodendron
  • Red leaf philodendron 
  • Hope selloum philodendron
  • Imperial green and red philodendron 
  • Prince of orange philodendron 
  • Pink princess philodendron
  • Philodendron brasil 
  • Philodendron micans
  • Burle marx philodendron
  • Xanadu philodendron 
  • Philodendron brandtianum
  • Philodendron birkin
  • Rhaphidophora tetrasperma philodendron

Pothos vs Philodendron  

Below are some differences between a pothos and a philodendron:

The overall shape of the leaves

The leaves of a heart-shaped philodendron have a more pronounced heart shape at the top. They also have a longer, skinnier, spout-like tip. Meanwhile, pothos leaves have shorter and less pointed tips, and they are less uniform in shape. Pothos leaves have a deep, well-defined ridge at their center because of the thick and ridged petiole, which philodendrons do not have. 

The texture of the leaves

Pothos leaves are shiny with a wax-like finish that creates a subtle waxy glow when they reflect sunlight. The leaves are also thicker, and their tops are slightly bumpy and more textured than the undersides. Meanwhile, philodendron leaves have a softer texture with a smooth matte finish, allowing them to absorb light effectively. 

Growth habits and new foliage

New pothos leaves will uncurl themselves from the current last leaf on the vine. Meanwhile, philodendron leaves extend from the part of the vine protected by a cataphyll, which is a small modified leaf that acts as a thin and waxy protective layer over the delicate new leaf. This is a unique philodendron trait, so if you cannot identify the plant by its leaf shape, this is what you should look for next. 

New philodendron leaves display a pink or brownish tint, darkening to their true color as they mature. Pothos plants, on the other hand, do not have such fancy new foliage, and their new leaves will reveal a slightly lighter green color than older ones, quickly changing color to match them upon maturity. However, they will not be a completely different color like those of philodendrons. 

Aerial roots and stems

Both pothos and philodendrons develop aerial roots that absorb moisture and nutrients while supporting the plants as they climb. These roots grow from the nodes and act as energy powerhouses, pulling moisture and nutrients out of the air to feed new growth.

Philodendrons’ aerial roots occur in clusters and are thinner and stringier  than those of the pothos. They also resemble an above-ground root system. 

The two plants also have differences in their stems, in that pothos stems are thicker than those of philodendrons. Pothos stems are the same color as the leaves, while philodendron stems are more dainty and have a brownish-orange tinge.

The petiole

Petioles are short stems that attach the leaves to the main vine of the plant. Pothos plants have thicker petioles than philodendrons, and they are the same color or slightly lighter green than the rest of the foliage. These petioles lead to the deeply grooved ridge that runs parallel with the leaf stem. Meanwhile, philodendron petioles are rounder and smoother down the entire length and into the leaf, and appear a more brownish color than the leaves.

Conclusion

If you are a first-timer plant grower and you cannot decide between pothos or philodendron, consider the following:

Choose pothos plants if:

  • You prefer growing plants that are easy to maintain.
  • You want your indoor plants to purify the air and get rid of pollutants. 
  • You like plants that have aesthetic appeal. 

Choose philodendrons if:

  • If you intend to have a large collection, since philodendrons come in many varieties.
  • You would like to propagate both vines and self-heading plants. 

Image: istockphoto.com / yaoinlove